Tony La Russa is managing his Cardinals with a shell of a team. The squad looks more like a AAA lineup out of Memphis, but the Cards continue to beat up on their opponents and add distance between themselves and the NL Central so-called competition.
Cubs fans are known for being eternal optimists and pessimists, all at the same time. Conceding the division to the Cardinals, there are still 48 games left to play this season, but the Cubbies are still sitting six games under .500 with a 54-60 record. That puts them 7.5 games behind the Wild Card leading Houston Astros with another five teams in between them.
Barring some miracle on the same level of the three games to one comeback the Red Sox pulled off in ALCS last year, it's time to put a fork in the Cubbies and start looking forward to the upcoming NFL season. Here are the top ten reasons why:
10. The Milwaukee Brewers are currently 1.5 games ahead of the Cubs. If you can rattle off half the Brew Crew's starting lineup without looking it up, kudos to you. But there is no excuse in Cubdom for the embarrassment of looking up at Milwaukee in the standings at this point in the season.
9. Kerry Wood is back off the Disabled List and has looked solid in three outings. Too bad they have all been out of the bullpen. At least fans can cling to the potential that Wood could have a John Smoltz-like future as a closer. And in the short term, fans can also look forward to the look on hitters' faces who have to deal with Wood coming into games to relieve Mark Prior and Carlos Zambrano. Regardless, the staff's number one starter at the beginning of the season has been reduced to an arm in the pen.
8. Of the Cubs 48 remaining games, 19 are against the Cardinals and the Houston Astros. The optimist might look at this as an opportunity to gain some ground. The realist looks at the past three games, during which the Cincinnati Reds came to Wrigley and swept the Cubs, and sees the futility in believing in sweeping stiff competition.
7. Greg Maddux, Thursday's starting pitcher against Mark Mulder, is currently 8-9. With 48 games left to play, Maddux might get 9 more starts. He is a far cry from reaching 15 wins, a mark he has tackled for 17 consecutive seasons. If he makes a run at 15, the Cubs could make a run for the Wild Card, but Maddux's 8-9 start to the season is an indication that Father Time is finally catching up with the future Hall of Famer.
6. Derrek Lee's numbers are falling. The Cubs' first baseman is still a Triple Crown threat, ranked first in batting average (.348), third in home runs (33), and fifth in RBIs (84). He's having a magical season, but the league is figuring out that they can pitch around him, especially with Aramis Ramirez nursing a sore leg and not playing at 100%.
5. The Cubs' bullpen. They're not consistent, and they don't have any dominant pitchers. Roberto Novoa has been the epitome of the inconsistency walking batters, balking in runs, and giving up deadly home runs just like Kyle Farnsworth did last season.
4. As mentioned before, the Cubs have had two eight-game losing streaks this season. Those two streaks represent 10% of the season. Playoff-bound teams don't have extended losing streaks.
3. Corey Patterson was recently reactivated. Apparently his .234 average with three home runs and eight RBIs in 20 AAA games showed he was too good to spend too much time down in the minors.
2. The Cubs currently have 54 wins. They made the playoffs with 88 two years ago and missed it last season with 89 wins. It's safe to say that 87 wins are necessary to have a fighting chance to get to the October stage. That means the Cubs need to go 33-15 the rest of the way.
1. Dusty Baker. Everyone always talks about how Dusty's teams finish strong. They always play well when it comes down to the final stretch. August and September are the months when his teams catch fire. Well, it didn't happen last year, and it's not happening this year either. Cubs General Manager Jim Hendry recently gave his skipper a vote of confidence. Here's an idea for you, Mr. Hendry. You like to cut deals with the Pittsburgh Pirates, right? Well, why not a straight up trade proposal of Dusty Baker for Lloyd McClendon. Sure, a manager for manager trade has only happened once, way back in 1960 when the Tigers traded manager Jimmy Dykes to the Indians for Joe Gordon. But desperate times call for drastic measures. Get someone in the clubhouse that has a spark and can light a fire under his players. Baker had it his first season, but just like Rocky lost the eye of the tiger when Mickey died, Baker lost his spark when Bartman dropped that ball. If anything, McClendon, a member of the Cubs 1989 playoff squad, would provide endless entertainment for fans and the media. Plus he would be great to have in Chicago to torment Tony La Russa and the Cardinals for years to come.
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